Sunday, 6 October 2019

Movie Review: Christine (2016)


A biographical drama about coping with depression, Christine explores the build-up of suppressed anxiety to acute levels.

It's the early 1970s, and Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a field reporter with a Sarasota, Florida television station, approaching her 30th birthday. Professionally respected but socially awkward, she prepares and presents the Suncoast Digest segment, focusing on local politics and people. Station manager Michael Nelson (Tracy Letts) finds her material boring, and with the ratings sinking, prods Christine towards more sensational journalism. She resists and they clash constantly.

In her private life Christine is single, tense and depressed, although she does volunteer as a puppeteer at a children's hospital. She harbors a secret crush on station anchor George Ryan (Michael C. Hall), while still living with her mother Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), and suffering through bouts of severe abdominal pains. When the station owner Bob Anderson (John Cullum) announces opportunities for a promotion to a higher-profile Baltimore station, the competitive stress levels at work are heightened.

An independent production based on a true and shocking story, Christine delves into the reporter's life with a mixture of real and imagined events. Written and co-produced by Craig Shilowich and directed by Antonio Campos, the film explores the dichotomy of a woman respected for her principled professional standards, and indeed looked up to by colleagues, but personally and quietly suffering the devastating impacts of depression.

Campos invests plenty of screen time to tease out the attributes and dynamics of his lead character within her work environment. Yes there are petty professional jealousies and arguments about the trajectory of news-as-entertainment, but Christine is recognized as smart, ambitious, and confident, embracing feminism and willing to protect her integrity and fight against the rising tide of blood-and-gore ambulance-chasing news coverage.

Yet away from work the insecurities are gnawing away at her psyche. She is socially uneasy, difficult to approach, and cannot get any man to pay her any attention. Desperate for male companionship and eager to start a family, instead she is confronted with a grievous medical diagnosis. And conversations with her mother Peg include dark references to how badly everything ended at her previous job in Boston.

The film maintains a pragmatic matter-of-factness and focus on the one individual, Campos alternating the action between the local television station resplendent with garish 1970s-era decor (yellow and orange everywhere) and Christine's cramped apartment. He draws a stellar performance from Rebecca Hall, who carries the entire film. With a slightly bent but still assured public posture, she conveys the clash between internal insecurities and a dogged external determination to soldier on.

Life reaches a crossroads of apparent dead-ends, shattered personal and professional expectations, and an unacceptable imperative to conform. Despite all the seemingly insurmountable difficulties, the film nevertheless captures the sometimes difficult to discern but always present love and respect surrounding Christine, both at home and at work.






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